Vibes & Vices: Layla’s Restaurante

As someone who moves around a lot–mostly by choice–I spend a lot of time thinking about what makes one feel “at home.”

Just like we can feel a sense of companionship with nothing but our internal dialogues and completely alone in a room full of people, I’ve felt familiarity in places I’ve visited for the first time and estranged for in the wrong location, and Layla’s Restaurant is one of those places in which it was easy for me to make myself comfortable.

The Vibes: Perched on a second-story balcony seat with a view of a street fair in Parque Hidalgo to the east and a sliver of the Pacific to the west, I had plenty of space to unpack my thoughts and stretch out my presence for a while. A light mist of rain brought freshness and renewal to the early evening air, and the smoked pineapple raicilla margarita that Fernanda set on my table with a smile made me feel even more welcome.

Although I was the only guest on the 2nd floor at the time I arrived, before long I was joined by a congenial party of 4 who enjoyed a lively conversation amongst themselves, laughing as bottles of wine cut new streams of consciousness through the bedrock of longstanding camaraderie. I spooned through a hearty bowl of shrimp and corn chowder while totally not eavesdropping and taking notes.

The Vices: “Aren’t you that guy from the newspaper?” inquired one of the 4 friends as he saw right through my face paint disguise. I learned long ago never to deny a rumor that favors you, and this one had the benefit of being true.

I confessed to being myself, and was rewarded for my candor with a healthy pour of Roganto Cabernet Sauvignon, another product of Mexican sociability. We chatted for a bit about the roots of friendship and the merits of cornbread, and I even caught a recommendation for a future edition of “Vibes & Vices” before the main course, so thanks again Tracey.

In time the pork tenderloin flew in from the kitchen, and the near-universal understanding that there is to be a moment of silence to honor the arrival of delicious food demonstrated itself once more. I took my work tools in hand once more to unleash my productivity on the pork tenderloin, stuffed with delicious delights including more pork.

Co-owner Isabel made some time for a chat, joining me at the table as I savored the last morsels of meat. “The menu is all my husband’s idea, he loves to share foods from his grandmother’s table,” she explained as she motioned to Fernanda for dessert. “We started this restaurant as a tribute to our daughter Layla, who passed away 7 years ago…everything we do here is inspired by love, we try to give our guests a special experience.”

As if to bolster her point, the Royal Lemon made its grand procession to the table soon after. A delicate white chocolate shell had been dyed yellow and formed into the fruit’s shape before being lined with vanilla ice cream, filled with lemon jelly, and eagerly smashed by Fernanda with a ceremonial spoon in a display that gave me a wide-eyed kindergarten giggle.
After dinner I was treated to a tour of the restaurant, including the kitchen on the 3rd floor as well as the 4th floor roof deck. “We’re restoring it right now, we want to start throwing parties up here soon…the air is fresh and the view is very nice,” Isabel revealed. It was yet another reason to return to Layla’s…not that I hadn’t made that decision about an hour ago.

The Verdict: At least if you’re asking this writer, what makes us truly feel at home is the mindset we maintain and the company we keep. If you are at peace with yourself and willing to connect with those around you, you can make yourself at home practically anywhere on this planet, and Layla’s Restaurante specializes in warm welcomes and warm people. Maybe I’ll catch you there.

Info: Venezuela 137, 5 de Diciembre

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AJ Freeman
AJ Freeman is an adventurous spirit, serial friendmaker, and general enthusiast. He lives his everyday life hoping to demonstrate the nearly infinite potential for discovery and wonder on this small wet rock orbiting a dim yellow star in the backwoods of the Milky Way.